When I had Alice Waters over to my house for dinner, there was just one thing I wanted from her: to learn how to make real restaurant-style salad dressing the way she makes it. I’d eaten her salads before and all I can say is YUM. I needed to know the secret!
I was thrilled with my salad’s greens, since my friend George DeVault, one of the best farmers I know, had offered to pick them that day at the peak of flavor, and deliver them to my office so I had them fresh for the evening. Thanks, George!
Alice was totally game for making the dressing, so I gathered the tools she asked for: a mortar and pestle, garlic, salt, red wine vinegar (that’s my girl!), and fresh-ground pepper. And olive oil, of course.
I shot a video with my phone, but it’s so rough that I can’t bear to share it, so I’m going to walk you through the process. There are no measurements here, just taste and feel.
1. Peel a clove of garlic and mash it, adding some coarse salt, till the garlic is CREAMY. I’d never seen that before. The garlic literally looked like mayonnaise. She then took a little bit out with a spoon, in case there was too much garlic (she later added it back in).
2. Then she added the red wine vinegar. I had Fleischmann’s certified-organic and unfiltered vinegar and she liked it. How do I know that? She literally tasted it before she added it and said, “Oh, that’s good!”
3. She added some fresh-ground pepper and then mixed this up with her fingers, tasting with her fingers (adding a bit more salt) until it tasted right.
4. We let this sit while we ate dinner, since in France and at our house the salad always comes AFTER the main course.
5. After the main course, we went back to making dressing and she added the olive oil. My organic olive oil was OK for her, but she really prefers an olive oil that tastes more olive-y. Frankly, so do I, but it’s hard to get in the supermarket in PA. She recommended Eataly in NY, which I do sometimes shop at. She commented that many people put too much olive oil in their dressing—I believe I’ve been guilty of that.
6. She stirred the dressing all up with a spoon and then poured a bit of it onto the salad and tossed it gently with her hands for a good minute, tasting (with her hands)—adding more salt, adding more dressing—until it was just right.
And just right it was!